Ulpiano Sergio Reyes, better known to the world as Mellow Man Ace, is a Cuban born rapper who moved from Cuba to Los Angles with his family at the age of four in the early seventies. He’s often credited as being the father (or godfather) of the Spanglish (or bilingual) style, which combines Spanish and English words together in rhyme, within the same bar, verse or song. He’s best known for his 1989 hit debut single “Mentirosa” and for being the younger brother to Cypress Hill’s hype-man and secondary emcee, Sen Dog.
I’ve heard of Mellow Man Ace, but I’ve never listened to one of his albums, and honestly couldn’t name a single song of his, other than the single I mentioned above, but I’ve still never heard that song, either. I’m not sure what moved me to buy his second release, The Brother With Two Tongues, almost a year ago. Maybe my curiosity was sparked because of the role I knew he played in the history of Latino influenced hip-hop. Or the fact that I knew he was down with Cypress Hill. What ever the reason was, I bought the album.
A few weeks ago I was getting ready to dig into The Brother With Two Tongues for the blog, and while at one of my music spots, I ironically came across a copy of Mellow Man Ace’s debut album Escape From Havana. And since I already had his second album its only right that I start from beginning. So, respecting time and all of it’s illmaticness, I’ve decided to review his first two albums, back to back.
So, without further adieu, let’s jump into them, shall we?
Hip-Hop Creature – The Dust Brothers lay down a hard backdrop for the first song of the evening. Mellow Man Ace will never be confused for Rakim, but he actually sounds pretty sharp on this one. But the Dust Brother’s instrumental is the true star of this one. Great way to start Escape From Havana.
Mentirosa – This was the lead single from Escape From Havana that would go on to become the only top twenty hit on the Billboards Hot 100 for Mellow Man Ace. Tony G builds the instrumental around a slick loop from Santana’s “Evil Ways” and our host uses it to call out a lying and conniving female acquaintance. Ace raps most of the song in English, occasionally sliding Spanish words into his rhymes at the right time. This was dope.
Rhyme Fighter – Mellow Man Ace’s rhyme pattern sounds a lot like Kool Keith’s off-beat off-kilter stylings on this one. Come to think of it, even Tony G’s instrumental sounds a little reminiscent of a Ultramagnetic MC instrumental. Ace does a decent job imitating Keith on the first verse, but then quickly loses focus and his rhymes and flow get choppy. I still enjoyed Tony G’s instrumental, though.
If You Were Mine – This is Mellow Man Ace’s version of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love”, as he raps about making the woman of his dreams his lady, in the same soft tone LL used on his groundbreaking rap ballad. Ace’s rhymes are dated but decent, but the Kool & The Gang “Summer Madness” loop the instrumental is built around, sounds way more entertaining than LL’s cheesy Casio keyboard created backdrop.
River Cubano – Cuban from the river? Hmm…I’m not sure what that means, but Ace sounds comfortable and energetic spittin’ over DJ Muggs’ (who is credited as Grandmixer Muggs in the album’s credits) funky backdrop. This was decent.
Rap Guanco – Mellow Man Ace sticks to his Spanglish M-O, spitting his first verse in Spanish and the second in English. Tony G’s instrumental has a strong Caribbean feel, and he gives the listener some extended instrumentation before, in-between and after Ace’s verses. This isn’t a great song, but it makes for decent filler material.
Mas Pingon – Mas Pingon translates to “big dick”, “more dick”, “go to hell” or “go fuck yourself”. Again, Ace is rhyming in Spanish, so I’m not sure what he is saying, but he sure makes it sound raw as he yells his lyrics for the entire song. Matt Dike and Michael Ross hook up some stripped down drums and give the song a rock feel when they bring guitar licks in during the hook. This song is kind of like the Spanish version of LL’s “Rock The Bells”, and that’ a compliment.
Gettin’ Stupid – For you younger readers, “gettin’ stupid” back in the late eighties and early nineties was slang for “going hard” or “gettin’ busy”. Again, Mellow Man Ace is not a great lyricist, but he shows once again that he has a decent pen game. Johnny Rivers’ instrumental has a zany feel to it, but I like the horns he brings in on the hook. Overall, this was a decent listen.
Talkapella – B-Real gets credit for penning Ace’s rhymes for this one, so it should be no surprise that MMA sound pretty nice. But since Tony G uses the same Headhunters’s loop that KRS-One and Freddy Foxxx (aka Bumpy Knuckles) would completely annihilate a few years later (see Sex And Violence‘s “Ruff Ruff”), I can’t help but compare Ace’s rhymes to theirs. And of course, Ace pales in comparison. By the way, the song title is corny as hell.
B-Boy In Love – MMA picks up where he left off at on “If You Were Mine”. Tony G rips a loop from Rufus’ “Sweet Thang” for the verses and borrows a piece of The Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You” for the hook. Two safe samples, but they sound dope meshed together. Mellow Man’s love raps are a little cheesy, but you’ll definitely enjoy the instrumental work.
En La Casa – Mellow Man spits in Spanish for the entire song, and I have no idea what he’s rhyming about, but the song’s title translates to “in the house” or “at home”. So, I’m assuming he’s getting his “Rev Run on” on this one. Def Jef gets his only production credit of evening and unfortunately its very mediocre.
Enquentren Amor – Our host brings back the instrumental from “If You Were Mine” and talks about the same thing (I think) as the original, but this time he spits all his rhymes in Spanish. (Enquentren Amor in English translates to “find love”). And with that, Escape From Havana is done.
Escape From Havana starts out strong, with solid rhyming from Mellow Man Ace and dope production from his team. But by the beginning of the second quarter of the album until the end, things stay in that dreaded range of “decent to mediocre”, only occasionally showing signs of life. Mellow Man Ace isn’t a terrible emcee, but he definitely needs more potent production to hold the listener’s attention for an entire album. Lets see if he does that on The Brother With Two Tongues…